Q. My child’s father and I just broke up. Our son is 3. I have a feeling that since our son is so young he should live with me. His father disagrees and wants to keep him for two or three days at a time. I find that outrageous and I’m scared of letting my son go with his father because he won’t bring him back when I want to. What is good ex-etiquette?
A. Fifty years ago, the courts might have approved you. Custody was decided according to the “Tender Years Doctrine”, which meant that the mother was the primary caregiver and had full custody while the father was visited.
This has not been the case for years. Custody is now decided “in the best interests of the child”.
This means that the law regards both parents as equal. It is recognized that children regularly need both parents in their lives to be safe and emotionally secure.
Most parents are now given joint custody of their children after a separation, unless there is nothing against it in the past, and an upbringing plan is drawn up that allows the children as much time as possible with both parents.
Does that mean your child spends more time with you than with their father? I do not know. It varies from state to state, and other factors that we haven’t discussed are taken into account when deciding on custody.
Here’s what I can tell you: if you prevent your son from spending time with his father just because you think it’s unheard of, it can backfire.
When you practice good ex-etiquette, all of your decisions will be made with your child first. This means you take yourself out of the equation and use your child’s best interests as a basis for making decisions. Thinking it’s outrageous is only your opinion, and judges don’t take it lightly when one parent interferes in their child’s time with their other parent.
When the going gets tough and a judge has to decide, the deciding factor as to which parent has sole custody often depends on which parent is most likely to facilitate spending time with the other parent. That doesn’t sound like you now.
At this point, it is best to sit down with dad and agree on when your son will be with you and when with his father.
During this discussion, talk to Dad about how each of you takes care of your son when the other is not around. Create an environment where you can shake hands on your child’s behalf and they will thrive. Create an environment where your child is afraid to love both of you and feels like they have to choose one or the other, and you will add to your child’s fear, insecurity, and questionable mental health.
In other words, you need an attitude adjustment, and it does it quickly.
If you really want to know what good ex-etiquette is, then parents put their children first and do their best to help each other be the best parents they can be.
You can do it. That’s good ex-etiquette.
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